REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN URUGUAY
RIGHT TO HUMANE TREATMENT
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man – Article
I. Every human being has the right to the security of his person.1
Since 1973 the Commission has received and forwarded to the Government of
Uruguay the pertinent parts of numerous denunciations and other communications
on physical and psychological torture of individuals deprived of their freedom,
specifying in detail the time and place of the mistreatment. The Government, in
its response to each request for information, has categorically denied that
torture or other mistreatment are used in center of detention, arrest or
confinement, and has consistently maintained that “there is constant medical
attention” and that prisoners receive “special attention.”
Largely because of the irreconcilable discrepancies between the
information provided by the Government and the more than 100 denunciations
received alleging the use of physical and psychological torture, the Commission
felt it necessary to conduct an observation “in loco” in order to reach some
final opinion with regard to these individual cases. Such a visit would have
enabled us to see an take testimony from individuals allegedly tortured or to
compile other statements, in the place specified by the claimants. This
procedure has been extremely beneficial in inquiries into similar charges in
Many of the denunciations describe the types of physical and
psychological torture used, as alleged, against detainees during interrogation
sessions and detention. The descriptions are in agreement on the major points.
By way of example, presented below is one of the most succinct and precise
descriptions received, taken from case 1929.
Wall-standing: the prisoner must remain standing in a fixed
position, sometimes with the arms upraised or holding weighty objects, with the
legs kept well apart, for hours or days, sometimes nude and in the open air.
Beatings: of all types: karate; with sticks; with iron objects;
with rubber bludgeons; fisticuffs, kicks, and so forth. Many prisoners have lost
teeth, suffered fractured ribs, ruptured eardrums, and so forth.
Electric prod: application of electric current (if the torturers
are careful and expert, 200 volts exactly are used, as 220 volts are regarded as
fatal) to the most sensitive parts of the prisoners' bodies (gums, lips, eyes,
ears, genital organs, breasts).
The submarine: repeated immersion, upside down, in a tank or
water, generally mixed with vomit, blood or urine, until the victim is on the
verge of asphyxiation. At times that threshold is passed and the prisoner dies.
The dry submarine: progressive asphyxiation is brought on by
wrapping the head of the individual being tortured in a plastic bag or sack.
The stocks: the prisoner is tied to four stakes in the ground,
generally nude and always in the open air, with arms and legs completely
The horse: the nude prisoner is made to mount a sawhorse which
keeps him from touching the ground. With his arms held open, the sawhorse is
moved backward and forward so that the individual being tortured feels as if he
were being sawed in half, while seriously injuring the genital organs.
The pau de arara: the individual being tortured is hung by the
knees from a horizontal plank, with the hands and ankles tied together. This
cuts off circulation of the blood; the body turns livid and the individual being
Sexual acts of violence: there are many cases where torturers
violate women detainees (and at times male detainees) and where mutilating
devices are inserted in the vagina or anus.
In many cases, the tortures are conducted in the presence of a physician
who must indicate when the torment should be brought to a halt if death is to be
Generally speaking, the prisoners are hooded and have their eyes
blindfolded. To the above cases, which do not cover all those that take place in
actual fact, should be added the psychological torture resulting from simulating
executions, false news of the death of members of the family, from torturing a
spouse in the presence of the other, to a child in the presence of his father or
mother, or vice versa.
The information contained in the numerous denunciations coincide as to
the places of detention and interrogation where the aforementioned physical and
psychological torture is applied.
The Commission transmitted these denunciations and communications in
accordance with the special procedures provided for under Article 53, in order
to verify the events.
In its response to Case 1929, the Government of Uruguay has rejected
these denunciations by stating that “no form of torture or mistreatment is
used in any place of detention, arrest or confinement.” However, the
Government of Uruguay has confirmed for the Commission that a number of civilian
detainees were hospitalized in military hospitals with traumatic lesions and
other abnormal conditions which resulted, according to the Government, from
confrontations with the authorities.
Transcribed below are the following paragraphs of Note 336, of September
9, 1974, sent by the Government of Uruguay with reference to Case 1973:
3. The list of individuals being
held in the Armed Forces Hospital Center, which was attached to the
communication to which I now reply and which was provided to the Senate of the
Republic by the Ministry of National Defense, corresponds to the period of state
of internal war and is a painful but logical consequence of war; at the same
time it demonstrates the effective sanitary and medical assistance that the
State provides to detainees.
It should be pointed out that the list in question does not include the
names of those members of the Armed Forces who died, were wounded or
hospitalized, who were, nevertheless, many.
4. Using that background information
the list of detainees in question should be studied within the frame reference
specified, which in no instance allows one to assert that the individuals were
hospitalized because of injuries resulting from “mistreatment and torture.”
The real reasons for hospitalization of these individuals are the
activities and confrontations that subversive and seditious elements had with
the Armed Forces of the Republic during the internal state, during the course of
which it became evident that the subversive not only totally ignored the most
basic notions of the rights of the human person, but also lacked the most
rudimentary vestiges of humanitarian sentiments.
The list referred to in this statement covers the period from mid-April
to the beginning of September 1972, and contains names accompanied by a variety
of diagnoses including “dead on arrival” and “attempted suicide.”
In this case where the presence of traumatic lesions and similar injuries
on individuals under custody is confirmed but where it is denied that these are
the results of the use of physical and psychological torture, as denounced, in a
note dated June 3, 1974 the Commission requested that the Government of Uruguay
provide the following information:
In view of the fact that the Government of Uruguay gave no substantive
reply to these questions, on December 17, 1974, the Commission addressed a note
to the Government reiterating its request for information in an effort to obtain
the concrete data necessary.
More than five months after the Commission's request for information
regarding Case 1793, on May 23, 1975 the Government requested a 90-day
extension, as follows:
This request is prompted by a desire on the part of the authorities of my
country to be able to submit a detailed report to the Commission over which you
preside as to the case that you mention. That information is now being prepared.
On September 10, 1975 the Government of Uruguay sent is response.
However, that response was merely a repetition of the information provided in
Note 336 of September 9, 1974, with a verbatim transcription of paragraph
4 of that communication, quoted above.
In view of this response, at its thirty-sixth session (October 1975) the
Commission decided to make the following recommendation to the Government of
That it adopt the necessary measures so that an investigation may be
conducted by the competent legal authorities as to the actual causes of the
hospitalizations in question, with a view to determining the possible commission
of acts in violation of the right to life and to the security and integrity of
the individual, as upheld in Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights
and Duties of Man, and eventual punishment of those responsible. The Commission
also decided to request the Government of Uruguay to kindly report, before
December 31 of that year, on the measures ordered in accordance with the
foregoing recommendations and any results obtained.
This resolution was forwarded to the Government on October 24, 1975.
After almost six months, the Government sent its reply through a note dated May
1) As I stated to that Commission on
my Government's behalf, through Notes 336/74-16.B.18 and 316/75-16.B.18, dated
September 9 and September 10, 1975, respectively, the real causes for those
hospitalizations are the activities and confrontations that subversive and
seditious elements had with the Armed Forces of the Republic during the state of
internal war decreed by the General Assembly; for that reason my Government
feels it is both contrary to law and counterproductive to conduct an
investigation “as to the actual causes of the hospitalizations in question”
as that Commission recommends.
2) Even if we supposed that my
Government were to adopt the recommendation in question and thereby wishes to
investigate what it knows perfectly well, the actual impossibility of conducting
the investigation would become apparent inasmuch as the hospitalizations to
which reference is made in the note to which I reply and the confrontations that
caused them took place approximately four years ago, throughout the country,
during a state of internal war.
Nº 1793 to which this reply refers is still undergoing processing.
The overall situation of the right to physical integrity was exacerbated
by the provisions of Article 4 of Law Nº 14.493 of December 29, 1975, which
suspended during 1976, “prison or case visits by the Supreme Court of Justice,
visits organized in accordance with paragraph 1 of Article 73 of the Code of
Organization of the Military Courts with respect to the crimes provided for
under Article 15 of Law Nº 14.068 of 1972.”
American Convention on Human Rights – Article 5.
Every person has the right to have his physical, mental, and moral
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or
degrading punishment or treatment. All persons deprived of their liberty
shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
Punishment shall not be extended to any person other than the
Accused persons shall, save in exceptional circumstances, be
segregated from convicted persons, and shall be subject to separate
treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons.
Minors while subject to criminal proceedings shall be separated from
adults and brought before specialized tribunals, as speedily as possible, so
that they may be treated in accordance with their status as minors.
Punishments consisting of deprivation of liberty shall have as
essential aim the reform and social readaptation of the prisoners.